Perspectives on the Impact of Historical and Contemporary Terrorism on the World's Indigenous Peoples

Article excerpt

Introduction

The world has been increasingly concerned with terrorism in the late twentieth century. In part because the United States government, media, and military have been so aggressive in their global responses since September 11, 2001, but also because the aspirations of many historically marginalized groups have been organized and groups have taken action to promote their interests against those of the state. Agreeing on a definition of terrorism is itself often contentious, subject to the perspective and interests of those doing the defining: hence, counter-terrorist activities are often hard to distinguish from the terrorism they are allegedly combating. "Indeed, virtually any especially abhorrent act of violence perceived as directed against society, whether it involves the activities of antigovernment dissidents or governments themselves ... is often labeled 'terrorism'." (1) Terrorism is hardly new. The word itself was popularized during the French Revolution and was at that time, used in the context in which this paper focuses. Regime de la terreur was understood to involve power wielded by the recently formed revolutionary state. "It was designed to consolidate the new government's power by intimidating counterrevolutionaries, subversives, and all other dissidents whom the new regime regarded as 'enemies of the people'. The Committee of General Security and the Revolutionary Tribunal were thus accorded wide powers of arrest and judgment...." (2)

State terrorism goes back a long way. Edward Herman suggests in Z Magazine, February, 2006 that the 7th Century B.C. Assyrians "brought to perfection a systematic terrorization of their adversaries ..." (3) Powerful states have brought institutional (military, economic, social, cultural, & legal) force to bear against resistant groups throughout history. Indigenous groups throughout the world have been marginalized and targeted by expanding states for hundreds of years, with disastrous consequences that persist for those cultures today. In the post 9-11 twenty first century, many states like the United States seem to have taken cues from the French Revolution and passed Patriot Act style legislation that grants broad powers to police and intelligence arms of the government to deal with terrorism. In a surprising number of cases across the globe, with or without the support of these enhanced laws, various states have targeted indigenous activist groups resisting genocide, forced relocation, corporate and/or governmental encroachment on traditional lands, and branded them as terrorist in order to dispossess them more efficiently and effectively.

Understanding the vagaries of terrorism, and the elusiveness of a comprehensive, consensus definition, as well as who and where indigenous peoples are in the twenty first century and the dynamics of the relationship and tensions between native peoples and the nation-state (both historic and contemporary) is the focus of this paper.

While terrorism has been evident for centuries, it has been employed with greater urgency and frequency in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. It has become a preoccupation of government leaders around the world. Alarm and concern is evident in military doctrine, budgets, legislation, and speeches that call for intelligence and security agencies to work more closely together, often with the United States supplying training and hardware where lacking. There is no question that the danger is real, but American officials as well as the leaders of other countries have often exaggerated it in order to advance their own political, social, economic and military agendas. Comprehensive legislation such as the Patriot Act, giving governments enhanced and often extraordinary powers to address the perceived threats) to security, has been enacted and implemented in many countries.

It is important to come to an understanding of what distinguishes terrorists from other types of activists, irregulars, radicals, & protectors that may be employing non-traditional means to call attention to their interests, positions, and demands. …